Team India lose chief sponsor

NEW DELHI, Feb 4, 2012 (AFP) - Indian cricket was hit by a major crisis on Saturday when the long-time sponsor of the national team pulled out over its differences with the Board of Control for Cricket in India.

The Sahara group of companies, which has been a BCCI sponsor since 2000, said in a statement that it was ending what it perceived was a “one-sided emotional relationship” with the BCCI. “We really feel such one-sided emotional relationship cannot be dragged any further,” the company statement said. “We are withdrawing from all cricket under the BCCI.” Sahara also withdrew its ownership of the Pune Warriors team in the Indian Premier League, causing a turmoil in the glitzy Twenty20 league ahead of the players' auction in Bangalore later on Saturday.

The group cited several reasons for the sudden pull-out, but insisted it had nothing to do with the national team's recent performances where they lost eight consecutive Tests abroad against England and Australia.

Sahara said it was unhappy with the BCCI's dealings with it over the Pune Warriors franchise which was bought from the 2011 edition of the IPL for $370 million. “Our first entry into IPL was thwarted in 2008 when we were disqualified, owing to a small technicality on the whims and fancies of the BCCI,” the company statement said.

“Last year, Sahara entered the IPL on the basis of information in the media and everywhere else that 94 matches will be played among 10 teams. The bid price was accordingly calculated, but only 74 matches were played.

“We are still pursuing continuously with the BCCI to refund the extra bid money proportionately. It has been denied on the basis of strict rules.” Sahara was also unhappy that the BCCI had not allowed it to use the $180,000 it paid for India star Yuvraj Singh on another player, even though the left-hander is indisposed and ruled out of the competition.

Yuvraj is being treated for a non-malignant lung tumour which was diagnosed after the World Cup last year in which he was the man of the series following India's victorious campaign. “We requested the BCCI on the basis of the fact that we have only one Indian marquee player, we should be allowed to add price of Yuvraj in our auction purse,” the statement said.

“Again, we have been denied on the basis of the rule book. Yet again, it's a case of being denied natural justice.” There was no immediate comment from the BCCI on Sahara's decision. Sahara, whose fresh four-year contract worth an estimated $115 million for the national team runs out in December 2013, said it would give the BCCI sufficient time to find a new sponsor.

“We don't want to give any problem to the BCCI and we also feel that the players should not suffer,” the statement said. “The BCCI will definitely take two to four months to get a new sponsor and we will continue paying the sponsorship money till then.” Sahara said that all players, coaches and officials associated with Pune Warriors would be paid even if the BCCI barred the franchise from playing in the fifth edition from April 4.

The Lucknow-based Sahara group operates in the finance, infrastructure, housing, media and consumer goods.

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